Organizers of the second Americas Competitiveness Forum met with Atlanta’s consular corps and business leaders at the World Trade Center Atlanta April 14 to enlist their help in bringing foreign government officials and businesspeople to the economic conference.
CIFAL Atlanta, the United Nations’ joint initiative with Atlanta’s city government to promote economic development in the Western Hemisphere, is again hosting the Aug. 17-19 forum in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development and U.S. Department of Commerce.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce Walter Bastian said that the size and scope of last year’s conference was unprecedented.

“Last year … people told us we were nuts doing this, that it was just too big,” he said, adding that the successful forum has inspired other regional economic conferences such as the March 30-April 1 Americas Innovation Forum in Punta del Este, Uruguay.

Alex Mejia, CIFAL’s president and CEO, said that last year’s more than 1,000 conference attendees included three U.S. cabinet members, more than 50 government officials from South America and Canada and businesspeople from all 34 countries in the hemisphere.

Mr. Bastian encouraged the consular officials, including Atlanta’s longest-serving Consul General Carlos Layus of Argentina, Consul General Camilo de Bedout of Colombia and Deputy Consuls Steven Gawreletz of Canada and Peter Wickenden of the United Kingdom to urge their countries’ ambassadors to attend this year’s conference.

He praised Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for supporting the conferences and promoting the city as a regional business and innovation center. Luz Borrero, Atlanta’s deputy chief operating officer and a CIFAL trustee, represented the city government at the meeting.

Several members of Atlanta’s business community were present, including Luis Aguilar, an attorney at international law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP who was recently appointed by President Bush to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Mr. Bastian said that Ms. Franklin is working to get more U.S. officials at the conference and that organizers are setting up an essay contest for Atlanta-area high school students to get their thoughts on business and competitiveness. Proposed prizes include a trip to Washington to see the workings of the Commerce Department.

Georgia department Commissioner Ken Stewart said that Atlanta hosting the conference for the second year in a row may help revive efforts to make the city the headquarters of a Free Trade Area of the Americas, a now-stalled initiative to create a free trade agreement among all the Western Hemisphere democracies.

“We certainly see ourselves as the gateway to the Americas,” he said. “Atlanta has a key role to play in the FTAA, to bring people into this area and this culture. The ACF is the perfect place to bring that to bear.”

The last Free Trade Area of the Americas summit was in Mara del Plata, Argentina, in 2005, but no hemisphere-wide trade agreement was reached.

Mr. Stewart also said that the forum is to emphasize the same themes as last year, promoting public-private partnerships, innovation, sustainability, entrepreneurship, local economic development and logistics.

The conference is to be held at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Peachtree Street. Registration fees for private-sector participants are $950, government-recognized non-profit enterprise representatives $850 and government officials $650. Anyone registering before June 1 qualifies for a $100 discount.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...